’The Guy’s a Winner’: Inside Blaine Traxel’s Impressive Start to the Season
One of the biggest parts of West Virginia baseball’s hot start to the 2023 season has been starting pitcher Blaine Traxel. A fifth-year graduate student, Traxel played at Cal State Northridge for the first four seasons of his collegiate career before transferring to the Mountaineers ahead of this season.
Traxel was named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Week for a complete game win over Arizona in February, and he’s been West Virginia’s most consistent starter to date, pitching to a 2.02 ERA in 49 innings.
Head coach Randy Mazey said he offered a player from a Big West team over 2,000 miles away thanks to a tip from an old friend.
“My former pitching coach, Dave Serrano, coached him at Cal State Northridge,” Mazey said. “At the end of the season he said ‘Maze, I got a guy… you’re not gonna be impressed with how hard he throws or his pitches, but I’m telling you, the guy’s a winner.”
Traxel isn’t the kind of player who’s going to beat you with his speed. His fastball sits in the mid 80s. He’s a pitcher, not a thrower, altering his delivery and using deception and mind games to fool batters.
Mountaineers second baseman JJ Wetherholt gave the batter’s perspective on what it’s like to face Traxel.
“Nothing he throws is straight. He throws different arm slots, changes his timing, messes with hitters’ timing, his tempo is different, he hits his spots,” Wetherholt said. “He throws a bunch of different pitches. It’s just a really uncomfortable at-bat.”
Traxel’s sidearm delivery is one of his calling cards. Mazey said Traxel didn’t start throwing that way until his junior year of high school.
“He was an unrecruited guy and was getting ready to pitch against the best high school team in the state of California…the game before Traxel’s team played that team, a sidearm pitcher beat them,” Mazey said. “They had a team full of Division 1 players, so Traxel said ‘heck, if I wanna beat ‘em, I’m gonna throw sidearm.’”
Traxel reworked his throwing mechanics in a matter of days, and the gambit paid off.
“I tried it, pitched well and then kinda just stuck with it, realized that’s where I would be successful,” Traxel said.
“That was the first game he ever threw sidearm, and beat ‘em, and became a sidearm pitcher and was like ‘this might be my ticket to college baseball,’” Mazey said. “When he got there, to college, he realized ‘this sidearm thing’s okay, but let me see if I can throw from over the top again,” Mazey said. “So now he throws from all different angles, all different pitches… you can’t prepare for that.”
It’s hard enough to tell what pitch is coming in a vacuum. It’s harder still to do it when Traxel could be throwing sidearm, submarine, or a traditional three-quarters arm slot. When his goal is to get a ground ball, all he needs to do is miss a bat just enough that a hitter can’t square up, and his unpredictable delivery helps that happen.
Coupled with excellent command, it’s Traxel’s world. Hitters are just living in it.
Even more impressive than his funky delivery is Traxel’s ability to pitch deep into games. He’s pitched four complete games in six starts this season, a throwback style pitcher who Mazey compared to MLB Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. Following Saturday’s complete game victory, Mazey spoke to the rapport he’s built with Traxel in the short time he’s been a Mountaineer.
“He always comes to me at the end of the eighth inning and says ‘you’re not taking me out of this game,’” Mazey said. “I said, ‘I wouldn’t even consider it…’ we’ve been on the same page the whole time.”
The Mountaineers had a narrow 3-2 lead heading into the eighth inning on Saturday. A four-run inning made it easier for Mazey to leave Traxel in, but he said he wouldn’t have pulled his starter even with a save situation on the table.
Wetherholt said that Traxel’s endurance comes from his demanding schedule at CSU Northridge. In addition to serving as the Friday starter, Traxel would turn around and close out the games on Sunday too. He’s no stranger to a heavy workload.
For Traxel, the desire to pitch deep into games is a poignant one. This is his last year of college baseball, perhaps his last ever as a player, so he’s not going to waste a moment.
“It’s all fun for me. Who knows what I’m gonna get to do after this year playing wise, so I’m just trying to have as much fun [as I can] while I’m doing it,” Traxel said. “I just let him [Mazey] know, like, nobody’s finishing the game but me.”